Six Expert Tips for Incentive Competitions

by Jonathan Tyler |


Are you a mananger with a workforce that is struggling to feel motivated and committed to the work at hand? Are you wondering where you went wrong? Do you want to jumpstart motivation, productivity and overall work happiness?

If you answered “yes” to these questions, then you are thinking along the same lines as many CEOs and managers across diverse industries. Bosses across the globe often struggle to identify what will retain employees for years and convince them to remain committed to the company.


Behavioral economist Dan Ariely often has said that it’s not actually a big, new bonus that will keep employees. Instead, it’s feeling valued. In fact, in one of his studies, Ariely found that employees who were given a compliment from their boss were more likely to stay at their job and report they were content than employees who simply received more money.

What does that tell you at this juncture? You can extend that positive affirmation to incentive competitions at your company, which will rally your employees together in teams to problem-solve or hit goals for the company — all with the outcome of getting prizes that reward them for their hard work. Want to know how you can pull off an incentive competition? It begins with understanding fully what they are:


What Is An Incentive Competition Anyway?

Incentive competitions first came onto the scene as broad contests drawing the best and brightest minds to solve the world’s problems. Let’s take the example of Charles Lindbergh, who in 1927, set into flight across the Atlantic Ocean in pursuit of a $25,000 prize. Lindbergh was taking part in an early incentive competition that businesses today can learn from.

In the 21st century, the incentive competition has expanded to individual companies, who launch the contests with the hopes of addressing a real problem at the company by motivating the employees through mental exercises and prizes. It can work, but at the heart of a company’s incentive competition must be a message that the company truly values the mind, voice and work of the collective and individual workforce.


Where Do I Get the Prizes?

This is a common question for CEOs and managers wanting to try an incentive competition at their company. There are several ways to get prizes, and all will depend on your budget for the incentive competition and the resources around you. For example, you might get prizes from the following outlets:

  • Allocating part of your fiscal year budget to the prizes
  • Asking community partners to donate the prizes
  • Putting up a personal cash prize

The source of your prizes largely will depend on your company and your current situation to allocate or pay for prizes. In addition, the actual prizes will vary because a high-end camera prize package is not going to motivate a group of doctors the same way it will a group of professional photographers. You’ll want to make sure the prizes match the gravity of the competition and what you know about the motivations and needs of your employees.


How Do I Get Started?

Getting started with an incentive competition at your company is going to take some legwork. But, with the proper planning — and a few expert tips — you’ll find that it’s not as difficult as you thought. The key is to make time for the planning process and to work well in advance to make sure you have the best prizes you can offer your employee competitors.


Tip #1: Set Your Goals

What problem do you want to solve at your company? Is there a sales goal you want to surpass? Do you need to improve company culture to retain more employees? Do you need to problem-solve an issue in your company?

Decide on a specific question that you want answered that your company will benefit from having answered by a team of creative employee minds that are full of new ideas and different ways of looking at a problem because they see the world differently. Make that the question that is driving your incentive competition. From the time you launch your competition to the time you announce the prizes, the goal of all employees who enter is to answer the question in the most creative, innovative and efficient way.

But this is where it also can get confusing. Your question needs to be streamlined and to the point or you may risk confusing some people and thereby, convince them not to enter the competition. The bottom line, if you remember anything, is that the more specific the question, the better direction your employees will have as they brainstorm, strategize and solve your company problem.


Tip #2: Consider a Cash Prize

Who doesn’t love cash? The answer is most people as long as it is worth their time — in their minds and perception. A cash prize can be a great incentive for a company competition as long as the prize is a significant amount. Consider offering a tiered cash prize approach — such as a grand prize of $2,500, a second-place prize of $1,000 and a third-place prize of $750.

By using a tiered approach with significant cash prizes, you’ll be able to grab the attention of employees and motivate them to think about the problem-solving at hand. If you offer a small amount of money — such as a $100 cash prize — you’re less likely to get responses. The prize needs to match the effort you are expecting an employee to make — and the ingenuity and innovation you are expecting them to share with your company.

Communicate that you value them by offering a significant prize — and extend that message by offering the full prize amount to every member of a winning team. That will make a lasting and significant impact.


Tip #3: Encourage Team-Building

One great way to get not only great answers to your company’s big questions, but to build camaraderie among team members and to build a sense of a team is to ask employees to join a group for the competition. From there, teams across your company can name themselves and go head to head in a challenge of minds, wits and problem-solving.

You can help to facilitate this process by hand-selecting team members and challenging them to come up with the best idea for the competition. Or, you can select team captains who then recruit employees to their team. Emphasis the importance of each individual to the success of the team and to the outcome of the competition. Encourage them to work together — however difficult it may be at times — to bring about a successful application and proposal to a real company problem.


Tip #4: Generate Excitement

If you want your employees to form teams and to enter your company incentive competition, then you have to convince them that it is worth it. Appeal to what you know about your workforce’s temperament. Are they hard-working? Do they like competition? Are they altruistic? Do they want to help your company improve?

There is something unique and general about your workforce that you can appeal to in order to motivate them. Identify what this generally is — and then make sure you are promoting news about the competition on as many channels as possible to help ensure that as many employees as possible have the opportunity to give their input and bring about change and solutions at your company.

Also important to remember in this tip: They will further feel valued and appreciated because you are taking the time to promote a new campaign and make sure they get the news! Sometimes that’s all it takes to get an employee thinking about a new direction, offering his or her voice, and taking a chance. And, what we know about taking chances is that they often produce creative, out-of-the-box results that actually help a company and its workforce for the better!


Tip #5: Make Sure There Is A Beginning and an End

One of the downfalls of many incentive competitions is that they aren’t always clearly communicated and there isn’t a clear end. The beauty and excitement in a competition like this is that there is a launch phase, in which the submission period opens, and there is a deadline, in which you will no longer take any more ideas.

Make sure you have a clear beginning and end, as this helps to build and to sustain momentum in the process. You want your employee teams to be on board with you every step of the way.

In addition, consider making your incentive competition a timed one that addresses a fun question such as:

  • Who can be first to reach $100,000 in sales?
  • Who can submit the best design for the new break room?
  • Who can walk the most steps to improve health and lose weight?

Make it fun and clear for your employees — and they won’t want to miss you on your incentive competition!


Tip #6: Possible Pitfalls

Remember that every incentive competition has the chance to fail — and that it will be learning lesson that will make your company wiser, stronger and more insightful in the future.

Managers can become focused on the means to the end — and that’s what you shouldn’t assign to an incentive competition. You may need a solution to a problem at your company. There may be a question you cannot solve on your own. You may need the collective genius of the workforce.

But at the end of the day, you also have to accept that you cannot rely on other people all the time. Think of the competition as a way to encourage and build loyalty among your employees. Convince them through this competition that they are doing something great for the company and that they are its most valuable asset.

Use this for them and not for you. If you get that answer you are looking for in the process, even better. But at the outset your primary goal is to encourage, inspire and communicate the value you see in your employees.

Don’t be the manager or the CEO who turns a perfectly good incentive competition into an initiative that is all about him or her. This competition is primarily about your employees and secondarily your goals.


Is An Incentive Competition in Your Company’s Future?

Is this year your company’s time to plan and launch an incentive competition? With this expert and handy guide — it can be.

What we’ve learned over the course of time is that with the proper planning and a great marketing plan, you can recruit employees to join your incentive competition and to take home great prizes that will continue to motivate them to work toward the mission of the company.

At the end of the day, that’s really what you are trying to do with an incentive competition. It’s going to cost you something and you want to come out of it with something more valuable the prizes you are giving away. What is that?

It’s always going to be your employee’s loyalty. That’s the gold currency, and by launching an effective incentive competition, you can get your workforce not only to support and believe in the mission of your company but to continue working on your behalf. A great company culture and a boss who values employees keeps them there longer than salary increases. This we know — so launch your incentive competition today to begin a new way of operating and succeeding at your company.

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